Kinsey Movie Review
In Kinsey, writer/director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) makes all this into a divertingly fresh story about a scientific crusader who was just too honest and inquisitive for his own good. But rather than taking a straightforward biographical approach, Condon fortunately makes the film a character study of Kinsey himself, wisely placing star Liam Neeson front and center. The film opens in black and white, Neeson quizzing his researchers on how best to interview a subject for the study. He's forthright, strong-willed and oddly provocative - you'd give up your life story to this guy in about ten seconds.
Kinsey's background is sketched in quickly and efficiently: Raised to be an engineer by his fire-and-brimstone preacher dad (John Lithgow), Kinsey instead goes into the study of insects, marries the similarly studious Clara (Laura Linney), and looks set for a satisfyingly long, productive, and dull career at Indiana University. In 1938 he starts teaching a class on human sexual behavior and the positive and negative response is overwhelming for one simple reason: He tells the truth. By bringing the same desire for accuracy to a fairly taboo subject as he once had to an essentially ignored one (wasps), Kinsey sets off a cultural hand grenade. Before the shockwaves from his first controversy even settle, though, Kinsey gets the idea to embark, Ahab-like, on his massive project and gathers a team of young researchers to help him carry it out. The team quickly becomes a loyal band of acolytes, shaking off Victorian sexual mores and exploring everything from same-sex relationships to wife-swapping, all in the name of science. The whole soap-opera subject of Kinsey's team of researchers (the subject of T.C. Boyle's novel The Inner Circle, which came out just a couple months before this film) is played with a refreshingly light touch, with Condon not giving in to either crude titillation or shocked finger-waving.
Although Condon has Neeson play Kinsey as too much the flawed but good-hearted genius (of the lovably detached from reality variety) - it's likely the real man was a much darker and more willfully manipulative type - that doesn't detract from the case the film makes for Kinsey's vast contributions to science. There's a perfectly-played moment that encapsulates Condon's approach: during his class, Kinsey flashes slides of male and female genitals on the overhead, causing almost visceral cries of shock from his students. A lesser filmmaker would have presented this as simple olden-times prudery and allowed us to laugh at the squares. But as shown here, one thing is obvious: It's still shocking, even today, for us to see sexual matters presented in such a clinical and matter-of-fact fashion. The film shows a similarly generous nature when dealing with Kinsey's relationship with his father, and indeed with all the characters - with the possible exception of Tim Curry and Dylan Baker, who show up to play the prissy strawmen of repression.
Condon assembled a crack team for this one, allowing us the simple joy of watching masters like Neeson and Linney work their magic with material that's worthy of them (not as common a thing as it should be), along with stalwarts like Peter Sarsgaard and, more surprisingly, solid work from the likes of Timothy Hutton and even Chris O'Donnell.
It's a fine, scintillating portrait of a trailblazer whose clear-headed approach to sex and its study can still shock in these supposedly more liberated times.
The DVD adds only a commentary track from Condon.